It’s far from an exam room, but in this downtown film studio sits Dr. Mike Evans and a new kind of interdisciplinary care.
Instead of nurses and dieticians, he’s flanked by a video editor, a storyboard artist, an illustrator and a director. In front of him are 12 feet of whiteboard, depicting a cartoon version of the trim, even-keeled family physician and YouTube sensation. Normally, he would see a dozen or two patients a day. But, in downtown Toronto that day, they’re making a video that will probably be seen by millions.
“We often joke about that: I’ve gone from 20 patients to 8 million in the last year,” said Dr. Evans a few feet away from squeaks and scribbles of illustrator Liisa Sorsa, who’s helping to create what Dr. Evans calls a “healthy virus.” It’s the latest visual lecture compiled by the St. Michael’s Hospital physician and associate professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Toronto. “Mostly what we do is take complex scientific health messages and we kind of crunch it all up, we storify it and make it all interesting for people.”
Dr. Evans exemplifies the changing role of physicians in Ontario today. Doctors are not only seeing individual patients, but are looking for new ways to make healthcare better on a much larger scale. They’re coming up with more efficient ways to deliver care, developing new surgical procedures, and taking advantage of new technologies to speak directly to huge numbers of patients.
“Dr. Evans’s videos are helping millions of patients lead healthier lives,” said Dr. Scott Wooder, president of the Ontario Medical Association. “He is an excellent example of physicians in Ontario evolving to meet the needs of our growing and aging population. Across the province, doctors are committed to patient care, system improvement and health care innovation.”
In a very short time, the Toronto family doctor has changed the narrative on health promotion videos. “23 and ½ hours,” his original viral video, started out as something he shared with his hockey team. When it hit 300 views, he considered it a success. A little more than a year later, it has nearly 4 million views just in English. Nearly another 4 million views have come in seven different languages, from Gaelic to Arabic.
The visual lecture distils leading research into simple, digestible facts on subjects like exercise, concussions, stress and diabetes, among others. YouTube’s global reach was the perfect platform to make sure the “virus” spread, reaching as many potential patients as possible.
“It’s where people are. YouTube’s on your mobile and at your home, but instead of being a virus that’s bad for you, hopefully our virus is educational and makes you make a kind of positive behaviour change,” Dr. Evans said. “I was an English lit major and I like taking the science and sorting out what’s high quality evidence and turning that into a story. I think a big part of it is the changing landscape of how people solve health problems. They go to Dr. Google, they search YouTube to learn how to do things, and they connect with others facing the same challenges.”
And that’s how he hopes to find a new world of patients – by offering a free, instant antidote to some of the most common and chronic conditions that plague Ontario’s healthcare system. In “23 and ½ hours,” he touted a magical cure for obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression: 30 minutes of exercise, even something as low-dose as walking.
“We’re constantly churning out videos and other engaging media like documentaries of patients, info graphics, text-messaging, and so on. We think innovation is more of a mindset of creativity and experimentation – something you get to constantly tweak. We’ve have had quite a few strikeouts, but also quite a few base hits and the occasional home run,” said Dr. Evans. “We think the signposts for failure and success are pointed the same way.”
“I think the second part is, for us at least, is making health messaging that moves beyond just knowledge and actually engages patients. I think the biggest missing health workforce are the patients themselves.”